Veronique Branquinho rose to fame in the late nineties with designs that offer an elegant attitude to daily wear, adding a touch of nighttime grace. With an eye for detail, her shoe, bags and lingerie collections have been of an equally striking beauty. After three years of collaborating with a number of brands, Veronique is back with a collection of her own. Vivian Sky Rehberg speaks with her about her ready-to-wear collection Spring/Summer 2013, just after its catwalk show in Paris. Veronique, distinguished, elegant and introverted, reveals to Extra Extra some of her ideas about what constitutes eroticism.
Vivian Sky Rehberg: Since Extra Extra is print media, I wondered if you could describe for the readers the collection and the runway show. Can you tell me about the atmosphere you were trying to evoke: the music, the pace, and how all of that is of one piece? How do the creation of garments and the making visible of those garments function together in your practice as a designer?
Veronique Branquinho: I always start with a mood; I’m not so much a designer that works with a theme. A mood or an atmosphere is very important. So the mood was very conscious. I also wanted very clean and pure lines. The woman I present feels very contemporary: strong, modern, fresh, sensual, with some sexiness.
But sexiness is difficult because every-one can interpret it differently… I wanted a sexy woman but a withheld sexiness, not in your face, not totally naked or gratuitous. I always like a bit of holding back and mystery.
Vivian: Is that ‘withheld’ sexiness translatable whether you’re designing a pantsuit, or a dress, or a skirt, or an ensemble? Is a dress differently sexy than a pair of pants?
Veronique: It all depends on the woman who will be wearing the garment, of course. It’s very concrete what you’re asking now. I don’t know. I have an intuitive way of working, so in the collection there are a lot of openings, like splits on the side of the leg, and some wide trousers, but I don’t like to focus so much on the clothes alone. It’s really an image I want to show. It all depends on the dress and who’ll be wearing it. Whether the dress is sensual or not depends on the woman.
Vivian: And on the body, the way the body moves. When you look at photographs of a fashion show everything is frozen, and that’s strange.
Veronique: Yes. I think that it is quite important to see how the clothing and the body move.
Vivian: Can you talk a little bit about the atmosphere of the show itself – I mean the pacing and the music and so forth…?
Veronique: I chose to have a really white, blank space. You sometimes can go for a more historical space or for some decoration, but I wanted a clean fresh canvas so I chose a white space that obliged people to focus on the garments. Of course music is important because it adds to the mood and the atmosphere. I wanted to come out with a lot of energy so we started with a song by Air and then – I don’t think anybody recognized it – I had a nice cover of I Wanna Be Sedated from the Ramones. With an airy voice and a violin – really nice. Then there was Trust and Beach House, and the finale was Lady Bird by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra.
Vivian: How long was it?
Veronique: Twelve to fifteen minutes or something like that.
Vivian: I always wonder how designers feel about the discrepancy between the time it actually takes to come up with a collection and the time it is staged, which is so short. Is there a total adrenaline rush or do you feel slightly sad and disappointed when it’s over?
Veronique: No, it’s definitely adrenaline. And also after the show, it’s kind of collapsing time. It’s really a moment you work for, and you live for this moment for a while. The climax is this moment you’ve been working towards. But it was time. I started in January or the beginning of February with this collection, so it was time for me to show it to everybody. You have to be able to move forward to the next thing, so I needed to show it.
Vivian: How do you imagine the woman we see wearing your garments in the photographs? Do you imagine her on a city street? Do you imagine her on holiday? How do you contextualize her in real space and time, rather than in a fashion show?
Veronique: These fifteen minutes are the only time I have to show my personal vision, so of course it’s a focused and concentrated one. I wanted a very pure image so the women are almost… some people described them as goddesses.
I liked that because it makes them so beautiful and a bit untouchable in a way. It amazes me too because I never ever imagined making goddess clothes. But if this is how it comes together, then that’s fine. I think it really interesting to think of the clothes on other women. How women are attracted to some of the clothes and they will make them part of their lives, give them a special place. And it makes sense as well, because these dresses described as goddess-like could be worn on the the beach with a flip-flop, or to a party, or you can wear these wide trousers every day. In the end, this is what I want to do: I want to make a collection for a contemporary woman. I don’t want to create a collection that can only live in a fantasy world.
so the women are almost… some people describe them as goddesses.
I liked that because it makes them so beautiful and a bit untouchable in a way.
Vivian: I’ve read that the ‘Branquinho woman’ is always poised and mysterious. I think most women hardly feel poised or mysterious most of the time and I wondered if you adhered to this description at all or if it’s something that you’re trying to bring across in your designs.
Veronique: I like that observation quite a lot because I think it has to do with the fact that I don’t give everything away. I really like a certain withholding. I think it’s much more interesting and intriguing than clothes that are shouting and very ‘in your face’. I also find it important that some things remain undefined. The woman wearing the clothes should be able to fill in the blanks herself. I don’t want to create one fixed image, bits need to be kept open for interpretation.
Vivian: I want to make an attempt to interpret this. Having seen the images, based on what you said about this withholding or this presence that is not loud and strident. I’m thinking about the color palette of this collection and one of the things that really struck me was your use of copper. Copper is a precious metal that we really don’t see very much of and so I was surprised. It’s so beautiful and is featured not only in the garments but also in the accessories, in the belts, the bracelets and in the models’ makeup, with the copper eyeliner which is absolutely gorgeous, particularly against blue eyes. I wondered what led you to copper, as opposed to gold and silver.
Veronique: About a year ago I became obsessed with copper and I have no idea why because you can also have copper that is used in really tacky ways – like plates on the wall or things that are quite heavy. But it is a really beautiful color, and it is precious, like you said. Gold seems so expensive and so inaccessible. And it is also easily abused and can become quite cheap. Silver is so cold and I wanted something warm and also because in a way, I was attracted by things that come from the earth. So I wanted to have some touches of earth. Copper is one of those things and then there is also a stone – I used a Tiger eye stone – and you can see it in the shoes, but also in the embroidery. There is also the indigo dye, which is a very blue pigment,
and then there are also little details in the shoes, like cow’s hair. You know, things that are a bit more rough, but I wanted to have these rough elements in a more modern or clean way. It was important to have these rough elements in this collection. It started with copper and I was thinking how can I translate copper into colors and that’s where the palette came from: the nude and the tan and then some tangerine – some really orange fabric – and then this fabric that is laminated with a glaze of copper.
Vivian: In interviews about previous collections, you’ve mentioned your interest in visual art, the cinema and the theater. I wonder if there were any of those influences here in this collection?
Veronique: I’m not really so literal. Of course I am attracted to art and I like to go see some exhibitions and go to the theater and the movies, but I don’t feel the urge to have them literally in the collections.
Vivian: A lot of the reports that I’ve read begin by mentioning your ‘years of absence’, but you’ve been really busy.
Veronique: I know! I’ve been busy, but I guess for Paris Fashion Week, if you’re not on a catwalk you’ve been absent. But I’ve been working for other companies like Camper, and for Marie Jo L’Aventure I created a line of lingerie, and I was artistic director of Delvaux, but apparently if you are not working on a ready-to-wear collection for a large house it’s not the same.
Vivian: How is designing lingerie different from designing clothes that cover the whole body and are meant to be seen rather than unseen? Or seen in different circumstances?
Veronique: I really liked it. In a way, lingerie is part of being a woman, it’s what you always wear but never see. In the collaboration with Marie Jo L’Aventure, I could simply do Veronique Branquinho for Marie Jo L’Aventure and it was a great opportunity. What can I say? It started with inspiration from Old Master nudes by artists like Cranach and Dürer – from these really perfect Eves and Venuses. I started thinking I would love to dress them. I took my oil paint and I started painting lingerie on Eves and Venuses from the 16th century. These paintings were the starting point of the collection.
These really perfect Eves and Venuses.
I started thinking I would love
to dress them.
Vivian: And since you are designing explicitly for the erogenous zones of the body is eroticism something you are thinking about? Because we think of lingerie as being sexy, but it also has to be very practical, comfortable, and supportive.
Veronique: For this collection I wanted to have some sensuality. I was experimenting with that, but it is always difficult because a woman who is sexy can wear a lot of things and still be sexy. But a sexy garment doesn’t necessarily make a woman sexy.
Vivian: I suppose clothes can be erotic in that they can be sexually fetishized.
Veronique: I think backs are very erotic. I always pay a lot of attention to the back in my silhouettes. And unfortunately you don’t see that on a catwalk photograph. And this was also important when I designed the lingerie for Marie Jo L’Aventure. I had to stick a bit to the shapes they are used to because they are practical and based on research into how supportive they are. I wanted to change the backs because just a slightly deeper or rounder back could make it sexier. You have to discover these little spots on a woman. That’s why I had some copper makeup applied to the back of the ears of the models of my latest collection. You could only see it when she turned her back to you. An ear is a special part of the body. When you start looking at it, it’s very, I don’t know – strange and weird and fleshy! It’s quite erotic.
Vivian: When you start talking about these bits of people, the little spots, I need to think about the experience of encounters on the street, in public space. You also only see bits of people. It’s only a brief encounter. Do you think there is eroticism in being in a public space between all these people who you only see fragments of?
Veronique: I love watching people. It’s a great pastime, and I just cannot help myself doing this. In the train, on the street. I do not think watching is in itself an erotic act, but an act of curiosity. And it sometimes creates this tension, when you notice the other person noticing you. I think you always first ‘sense’ people before you make contact. First impressions come without words. In a space filled with people you automatically feel who you gravitate towards.
Vivian: And how does the way they are dressed contribute to this first impression? Does this concern you as a designer?
Veronique: As I said earlier, my work as a designer is very intuitive. So… no, I don’t spend a lot of time consciously thinking about this. First impressions are not just about the way you dress. It is a package deal. The combination of clothes, body language, charisma. Clothing can help, but sometimes it is really just wearing your collar up, or a facial expression that creates the attraction.
I like the word desire. I like the tension that comes with desire. Because desire is wanting, is not having, and this tension is a good thing…
Vivian: When I was preparing for the interview I looked up the definition of erotic in English and in French. And I somehow thought that in French it would be different, but the definitions were the same. I find the term quite confusing if it only relates to sexual desire. Sensuality involves all of the senses. I wonder what it would mean for a woman to be sexually desirable versus sensually desirable.
Veronique: I like the word desire. I like the tension that comes with desire. Because desire is wanting, is not having, and this tension is a good thing. I think this tension is something I want to capture, and like you said, to be sensually desirable makes it even more tension-filled, so it’s good. It’s about all senses. Eroticism is not only about a body, it can be about a movement, it can be about eye contact, it can be about one little touch. Eroticism is very much about the senses. It’s so superficial to think it’s only about having sex. Or only about one thing.
Vivian: What do you think the most significant changes in fashion have been since you graduated from the fashion academy? I want to use the word ‘fashion’ rather than ‘style’ because here I mean fashion as something that’s an essential part of our everyday lives, in a commercial sense as well. I wonder especially about about the increased media attention to fashion with the internet and the ways in which fashion is being diffused now by different media. And then there are also those television shows; the Project Runway’s… How do you as a designer sustain your concentration in the face of all of those changes?
Veronique: I have seen fashion change a lot but it’s also something in the end I had to experience. It’s not my calling to compete with established houses, with houses with big machines and big money behind them to play with media and advertising. It’s my job as a contemporary designer to provide an alternative, an accessible alternative, because it’s like you said – with all the mediatization and everything – the world is a big place where a lot of people want to look the same and want to have the look of the season, or wear a brand. It has become especially important that other people can see you are wearing this brand. Designers like myself offer an alternative to people who are not so occupied with those concerns but who want to have something more individual and different. To have fashion that is still a sign of the times.
Vivian: Could we try a little experiment? I’d like you to free associate from the word ‘erotic’ – or sexy or sensual. What do you find an erotic song?
Veronique: I really like gravelly voices. I really like Lee Hazlewood. I like this kind of disappearing voice.
Vivian: A song with a disappearing voice. Perhaps this brings us back to the soundtrack of your runway show. You mentioned the duet of Lee Hazlewood en Nancy Sinatra, which made me think of the contrast between Sinatra’s light airy vocals and Hazlewood’s deep rusty voice – which has a very addictive kind of imperfection. These unexpected combinations seem to be embodied in your work, such as the earlier mentioned use of copper lamé, or the contrast between light fabrics and earthy, rough details. This unexpectedness, does that have an element of eroticism for you?
Veronique: Absolutely. You have to insert unexpected elements – you might call it imperfection – to create a tension. Creating something, regardless if it is in fashion, art or music, is always a play with decontextualizing and recontextualizing. The reorganizing of forms can attract your attention, because you start to doubt it. It makes you waver, and invites you to investigate. Something which is too perfect, you simply do not want to touch.
Vivian: Now, how about an erotic word or phrase in Dutch? I live in Rotterdam, after having lived in France for 15 years, and I hear this new language all the time, and I listen to it like music because I haven’t yet learned Dutch. So I would love to have a perfect word or phrase to say to surprise my friends.
Veronique: I guess I’m not so good in this free-association thing. I’m thinking too much now!
Vivian: Okay, how about a time of day?
Veronique: I really like ‘l’heure bleue’ (the blue hour), these lost hours of the day around four or five or six o’clock. The rush of noon has finished and evening hasn’t begun yet. I really love this.
Vivian: And a place?
Veronique: I like deserted places.
Vivian: And can I ask you if you wear a fragrance and if you do what is it?
Veronique: I’ve been wearing Serge Lutens’ Féminité du bois since it came out in the 1990s.
Vivian: Ah, I have it as well. And do you wear it every day?
Veronique: Oh yes, every day.
Vivian: And what does the fragrance evoke for you? Why do you think you’re so attached to it?
Veronique: It is the wood I think, and the spices. I’m very attracted to the smell of a forest and spices. It’s a bit peppery, which is quite masculine too. I’m not into citrussy, fruity, sugary spice or floral scents.
Vivian: Have you ever thought about making a fragrance?
Veronique: That would be really nice, I would love to do that. I have no plans but it would be interesting to see the process of making fragrances. I’m a big fan of Serge Lutens, he makes really amazing perfumes.
Vivian: And his shop in the Palais Royal in Paris is one of the most incredibly sensual places.
Veronique: Yes I love it.
Vivian: The whole ritual of entering is…
Veronique: Yes, this is what I like, the whole ritual.
Vivian: For our last question could you please tell us a little bit about what’s next for you? Are you moving right into designing the next collection?
Veronique: Yes I am. I am still in Paris but I go back on the weekend and on Monday I start on the winter collection. And I’m happy because it was already coming up but I couldn’t go deeper in it because I had to let go of September. Now this is done and I can turn my full attention to winter. I am looking forward to it.